UK Release Date: 26th August 2016
Runtime: 87 minutes
Director: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Writer: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, James Buckley
Synopsis: An arrogant, self-obsessed pop star gets a rude awakening when his new album tanks and he embarks on a disastrous world tour, playing to half empty arenas as his fame begins to crumble.
A few weeks prior to the cinematic arrival of Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping on UK shores, we were “treated” to the desperately uninventive David Brent: Life on the Road, which felt like a concert spoof from decades ago rather than a modern movie. Popstar, however, is something very fresh and entirely of its time. The comedy musicians known as The Lonely Island have cooked up the perfect send-up of the A-list concert movie, which shines a spotlight on the Justin Biebers and One Directions of the world, showing just how ridiculous they really are.
Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is a former boy band member who has spun off to become a hyper-successful solo star, in a major celebrity relationship with Ashley (Imogen Poots). His ex-bandmate Owen (Jorma Taccone) joins him as his iPod-wrangling DJ, whilst their third friend Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) has left the music business altogether to become a farmer. Under the guidance of his manager Harry (Tim Meadows) and publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman), Conner embarks on a world tour to accompany his highly anticipated second album. Needless to say, his star has started to fizzle out and he has to begin to confront reality.
The music mockumentary is a genre that has long been stuck in the shadow of This is Spinal Tap, which is now more than 30 years old. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a smartly written, endlessly energetic movie that brings the format right up to date with a witty send-up of today’s biggest and brightest musical stars. Popstar is a film that shines a comedic lens on the world of modern celebrity, but it also has a clear adoration and love for that culture that comes through very clearly in its take on the world. Scenes that poke fun at the fact that every star has a reality show or paint TMZ reporters as braying, giggling imbeciles are only possible from within the bubble of modern culture.
Andy Samberg is tremendous in the central role as the Bieber-esque Conner4Real. In a creative reflection of his own personal level of fame, which greatly exceeds that of his Lonely Island co-stars, who take up directing duties here alongside their supporting roles in the cast. Samberg’s Conner is an utter douchebag, entirely focused on spinning his own popularity to new heights, including trying to find a positive angle on a review of his new album that replaced its star rating with the poo emoji. I wonder where they got that rating system. His co-stars are inevitably shunted to the sidelines, but Akiva Schaffer deserves special credit for his incredibly bizarre turn as Conner’s former bandmate turned misanthropic farmer.
Being a Lonely Island movie, the songs are obviously an enormous asset to Popstar, which boasts several of the funniest musical performances on a cinema screen this year. One track focusing on the death of Osama Bin Laden is endlessly outrageous and the final number ‘Incredible Thoughts’ is the kind of wry earworm that the group has specialised in ever since ‘I’m on a Boat‘ became a prominent internet meme. A concert spoof can often live or die on the basis of how well its music walks the line between humour and genuine musical value. Nobody wants to listen to awful music, even in a comedy film, and Popstar‘s whip-smart tunes will stay with you for weeks.
It’s a shame that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping has completely failed to reach a multiplex audience because it is a smart, loving take on celebrity culture that brings the concert spoof right up to date. The film boasts a tremendous comedic cast, including a simply wonderful cameo from Justin Timberlake that is too good to spoil here, and a real sense of gleeful comedic energy. It suffers a little from the inevitable need for an emotionally driven third act, but that’s only a brief detour in a film that delivers laughs like Harry Styles’ postman delivers fan mail.
Pop or Poop?
With consistent comedy from the first frame to the final one, The Lonely Island has produced a near perfect comedy concert movie with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. It’s full of wry commentary on social media, celeb gossip and the modern music world, all wrapped up in smart dialogue and instantly memorable songs. Justin Timberlake and that TMZ scene are worth the price of admission alone.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.